Who is responsible when a driverless car is involved in an accident?

Volvo has become one of the first car companies to state they will accept full liability for accidents caused by its driverless cars. Mercedes and Google have made similar claims as manufacturers race to create a full functioning legal car of the future.

Volvo says it is trying to speed up regulations which are yet to establish how autonomous cars and their manufactures should be liable for accidents, they have further described current US and European laws regarding driverless cars and liability as ‘a patchwork of rules and regulations’.

This uncertainty over the liability of a driverless car accident is seen as one of the biggest barriers to adoption.

So, who is responsible?

Volvo feel it is unrealistic to put the responsibility onto their customers, however they have also stated they will only accept liability for an accident if it was the result of a flaw in the car’s design – “If the customer used the technology in an inappropriate way then the user is still liable. Likewise is a third party causes the crash, then it would be liable.”

Rob Crompton (Head of RTA at Michael Lewin Solicitors) commented “Volvo’s guarantee is a sensible approach to the problem, the sector needs to work together with law makers to help remove the uncertainty in the minds of the consumers, regulators and governments as to who would be responsible in the event of a crash in an automated vehicle. At the moment we have no idea where the responsibility lies, it could be the manufacturer of the technology, the driver or the maker of a component in the car. Clarity is urgently needed.”

In UK Law, the party causing an accident is responsible, but moving to a strict manufacturer liability approach would remove the need to assess who is responsible for the accident. This is something which is not currently recognised in the approach to liability in this country.

Will autonomous vehicles improve road safety?

Manufacturers claim autonomous vehicles could eventually improve road safety, however a number of autonomous vehicles have been involved in accidents during testing, but we all recognise that it is still early days for the technology.

When will we see driverless cars on our roads?

We are only going to see the use of driverless cars in the UK when all of the legal uncertainties are resolved, however some believe it could be sooner than previously expected.

Tesla have predicted it will have approval for automated vehicles as early as 2019 and Toyota have said it expected to be selling such vehicles by 2020 (only five years away!)

Prepare to buckle up and take to the roads in complete comfort and safety.

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